Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 2:34 pm, 13th September 2016

It is always good—is it not, Mr Deputy Speaker?—to see the right hon. Gentleman doing abject.

The digital economy is important beyond just the creative industries. We have the highest rate of contribution to our GDP of any country in Europe. Some 11% of jobs in the UK are now related to the digital economy, and that part of the economy has grown two and a half times faster than any other part. The digital economy also plays to our national strength in terms of the English language, music, drama, sport and gaming. Nevertheless, I worry that the present Government—maybe we did it when we were in government as well—are always wanting to pat themselves on the back, when actually it will be difficult, despite constant striving, to ensure that everyone can participate. There are still lots of people who have just 2 megabits per second. There are people who, when they have 10 megabits per second, will have contention rates that make it very difficult indeed for them even to use iPlayer effectively. I hope that the ministerial team will not want to keep congratulating themselves.

As I said, in many rural areas, including in my constituency, 70% of people have no access to 4G. The former Prime Minister has now left the House, but his obsession with Polzeath was never matched by success, because Polzeath still has terrible mobile coverage. As far as I can see, unless someone wants to correct me, the mobile infrastructure project was a complete waste of money—£150 million spent on 75 masts. That is £2 million per mast, by my rough arithmetic, and that is if all of them were built. It would be nice to know what has happened there.

I support the measures on pornography, to protect young people from images that would be inappropriate for them, but I, like the right hon. Member for Maldon, think that it is too unclear how that will be achieved. If you just ask, “Are you over 18?” it is a bit like going to the United States of America and being asked, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Nazi party of Germany between 1933 and 1945?” I suspect that not many people say yes.

The right hon. Member for Basingstoke is absolutely right about online abuse. I commend her for the work that she and others have done through her Committee and elsewhere. It is very important because many people, especially women, are finding that the internet is not a safe and happy place to be. It is far from happy. She is right that there is no clear definition of online abuse. The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines are inadequate and are preventing police from investigating in many instances where they should be taking action.

A Demos study earlier this year showed that in just three weeks, 6,500 women were called “slut” or “whore” in the UK on Twitter alone. Half of teachers now report that they receive online abuse either from parents—which is scandalous enough—or from their own pupils, and very little action is taken.

Many Jewish colleagues in the House have had absolutely hideous abuse—the kind of abuse that one would have thought ended in 1945, yet it now seems to be around as part of a supposedly acceptable political discourse.

There are real jurisdictional problems. I reported an instance relating to someone who was making death threats to me into my office and, more importantly, wanted to put antifreeze in halal meat in Sainsbury’s. When an attempt was made to prosecute, because the person was based in Germany, the German police refused to act, on the basis that it was just a British politician being attacked by a British national who happened to be in Berlin. I hope that the Government will examine some of these jurisdictional issues. Facebook, Apple and many others are far too slow in co-operating with the police, and I believe that what counts as evidence of ownership of a site is far too indistinct.

The internet can be an echo chamber, turning mild annoyance into a claustrophobic fury, and under the cloak of anonymity, people think they can get away with anything. We need to put a stop to that.